Before delving into this week’s topic, some good news: I got a Facebook scholarship to participate in the Journalism Creators Program at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY! This means that I’ll spend the next 100 days studying how to make this platform sustainable, together with an amazing cohort of international journalists. There’s an extra twist: Nikolia, a member of this community, shared the link with me to apply! What’s exciting is that this platform, made possible by your support, has been recognised for its great potential. I’m tempted to add another exclamation mark but I’ll spare you. In the meantime, thanks, once again.
I’ve been thinking about home since a chat I had with Najuan, a Palestinian member of this community. She told me she’d felt at ease living in The Netherlands, where her partner is from, until she became a mother. Then she started sensing the weight of what in Arabic is Il-ghurbe, living in a foreign land or away from your homeland. She felt lost, isolated and insecure.
As I heard Najuan speak, I knew what she was talking about. I gave birth to Lorenzo in Italy, my home country, speaking my native language. Afterwards, I started feeling foreign in my own body. My belly was suddenly empty but huge and flabby. My boobs were swollen and leaky. I often felt insecure and lonely. Could I go for a walk by myself? Could I tell an editor I wasn’t sure I could appear live on television, because my son now depended on me? I had witnessed how the umbilical cord had officially separated Lorenzo from my body, but I remained my son’s home for many months to come. Every time Lorenzo stirred, I woke up or jumped out of my chair. If I was away from him for longer than a couple of hours, a magnetic force would require me to drop everything I was doing (an important work dinner, a conference) so that he could empty my breasts again. I could feel his tears from kilometres away. My body was not mine anymore, even if the umbilical cord had been cut.
The first time I paid attention to umbilical cords was in 2014, when I was asked to report on a study that showed the benefits of delaying the clamping of the cord after birth. During that assignment in Buenos Aires, I realised that the moment we are born is also, substantially, our move out of our first physical home: the body of the person that carries us.
I may associate being born with moving because I’ve had a very vague idea of home and difficulty in locating one geographically. Since leaving my home town of Naples, Italy, when I was 17 years old, I’ve lived in a dozen countries, and spent long periods of time in several others. Friends have complained to me about not knowing which phone number I’m using or where exactly I’m living. At some point I tried to keep an exact list of all the addresses I lived at, but I stopped updating that Google Doc a couple of years ago. As if an address could tell you exactly where home is…
That’s what Najuan was pointing to, wasn’t it? She was talking about the idea of home as a place of acceptance, not simply as a geographical space.
Incapable of finding acceptance within myself, for years I sought it in others.
My parents remained my home a very long time without me realising so. Small details gave it away. Their number was registered as casa on my phone. Some of my most favourite books, together with dozens of journals I wrote throughout the years, were sitting in what they still call my bedroom.
Then there was my career that made me feel accepted, or at home, despite moving from country to country, and operating in English, which is not my mother tongue. I was chasing up a dream, getting published internationally, establishing myself professionally. I was growing up and accepting this new adult version of myself.
Loving friends provided an added sense of home. Then came my partner, and then my son.
Last March, different versions of “home” collided. Lorenzo, Nacho and I ended up spending a whole lockdown with my parents, three months stuck inside an apartment in Naples. We fought. I sensed we were not understanding one another, we were having a hard time accepting our differences. We were sharing an address, a physical space, but each of us had different needs. Were we all redefining what home and family meant? Were old grudges reemerging? Or was a new sense of unfamiliarity coming up after years apart, our worlds inevitably transformed? Like Najuan, I felt suddenly foreign in a space I had once called home.
Does becoming a parent accelerate the clamping of invisible umbilical cords we have not been able to sever earlier? I was made to think of this by reading Spilt Milk, a beautiful essay by writer Courtney Zoffness, where the author reflects on her relationship with her mother once she is a mother herself.
While my experiences of home shifted throughout the years, I’m now starting to understand myself as my own home. I’ve developed a new affection for my body, the one I felt estranged from after giving birth and that I now salute every morning with a yoga practice. (Interestingly, I’m just making my way through the Home series with online instructor Adriene Mishler.) I’m also cultivating my creative side, and this writing is part of it. I’m starting to welcome who I am, with all my insecurities and flaws. And I’m hoping that by accepting myself, I can more easily clamp the cord from Lorenzo and let him free to build whatever home he wants, even when our visions and worlds will inevitably collide or grow apart.
Ah, before I go, if you’d like to see some vintage images of my BBC TV career, you can watch the report on cord clamping here. 😉
What I’ve been reading
Bedsharing and child-carrying are completely normal practises in many parts around the world, but in the West they’re often seen as impractical. I enjoyed how this article looked especially at children’s sleeping habits and how obsessed we have become as parents with sleep-training and having our children in separate beds and rooms from early on. (Look, I would love to spend one full night detached from Lorenzo, but I also recognise how much better he sleeps next to me.) I appreciated the variety of international experts this article got access to. Thanks to Valerie, a member of this community, for sharing this article with me. Had she not done so, it would have turned into one of the many unattended open windows on my screen.
What I’ve been listening to
Luzmila Carpio is a Quechua singer-songwriter (and also former Bolivia ambassador to France), whose song to the Mother Earth gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.
What I’ve been watching
This is cheating, because I participated in this conversation, so I watched it as it unfolded. It’s a panel about the meaning of home in the times of coronavirus. Tanmoy Goswami, my former colleague at The Correspondent who now writes Sanity by Tanmoy, moderated it and I was one of the guests. Disability rights activist and poet Abhishek Anikka, who lives with chronic pain and scoliosis, spoke of the need to feel protected and cared for in a home, and how vulnerable he’s felt with his body turned hostile. Mental health specialist Maji Hailemariam dialled in from Ethiopia and said she feels at home when she doesn’t have to explain and justify her existence. The full video is here (it’s over an hour!), but if you’d like a quick summary, Tanmoy extracted some of the best in this thread on Twitter.
Who’s been inspiring me
Satire account Man Who Has It All often catches me off-guard as I am scrolling on Twitter. An example: “TODAY’S DEBATE: Can men be trusted to make decisions about their own reproductive systems? Or should important decisions involving ethics, morality and reason be left to women?” Or this: “’Employing males is a minefield. You have to avoid bullying them, groping them and paying them less. It’s exhausting. Poor me.’ Claire, CEO” I often laugh before getting angry. But it’s good to go through the process.
What members are saying
I received so many touching emails after last week’s newsletter in which I talked about an early miscarriage I had. Thanks to all for reading along, sharing your own losses, and together creating a space where baby and pregnancy loss are not a shameful taboo. Thank you! Your words mean a lot.
What I’m missing out on and would love your help with
I’ve started working on a story on multiparenting, i.e. on families composed of more than two parents. I know the process is legal in some parts of Canada, the US, and in The Netherlands. So, here’s my question to you: do you know a multiparent family? I’m hoping to interview one in the coming weeks. Any tips, welcome as usual!
Until next week!
With love and care,
📣 Catherine McNamara, a member of this community, edited and improved this newsletter with lots of love, logging in from Maryland, USA. Thanks, Catherine! (If there are mistakes, they are my fault, not hers!)